Years ago, in what now seems like a different lifetime, Tara Lynn Wall tried to socialize with a girlfriend whose child had died.
It was uncomfortable, she recalls, as she didn’t know what to say or do – or how to behave – to make her friend feel better.
Today, Wall understands.
After her nine-day-old daughter Cora Beth passed away last April, her friends’ behaviour changed around her, too.
There were the platitudes and clichés.
“She’s in a better place” was said all too often – the words were pointless, even frustrating.
“Instead of asking me what I needed, they avoided the topic or tried to always be happy around me.”
She felt she had to gently guide them how to conduct themselves without being self-conscious.
It seemed no one understood the grief from the loss of a child – at least when compared to the loss of a parent or friend.
“Before it happened to me, I had no idea,” says the 29-year-old South Surrey resident, holding her playful daughter Ayla, 2.
What she needed was someone to talk to – someone who understood what it was really like.
Months later, with help from people at the White Rock Hospice Society and a local funeral home, Wall became a co-founder of the South Surrey chapter of The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a self-help support organization with a mission to assist bereaved families with the loss of a child – from any cause, and at any age.
Indeed, in the first two meetings, seniors in their 70s came to talk about the loss of their adult children.
TCF is not a therapy group. Rather, visitors to the healing circles are given a chance to speak – uninterrupted while they hold a teddy bear – and share their stories.
If it’s too early for them in the grief process, they can just sit and listen.
There are no counsellors and no religious leanings, although some meetings across the country do take place in churches.
In South Surrey, the meetings take place at a funeral home because the founders found it convenient and available.
“I felt that being that there are so many times I’ve been asked if we have anything like this to offer, I thought the funeral home (location) wasn’t the stumbling block as The Compassionate Friends might think it is,” says group co-founder Colleen Bujak, a funeral consultant at Victory Memorial Park Funeral Centre, where meetings take place.
“We had nobody not wanting to come because it’s a funeral home.”
Bujak says the sense of kinship and belonging helps with the grieving and recovery process, which varies from person to person.
There’s also a release of pressure at home, she explains.
“I had one of the parents tell me that she felt she wasn’t even allowed to bring the child’s name up because it upset everybody. She said ‘I want to talk about it but nobody wants to talk about it.’ ”
In the first two meetings, the tragedies came out in the open: cancer, violence, drugs, car accidents, suicides…
“It’s so different with so many people and so many different stories,” Wall recounts.
One described her son’s death at the end of a 13-month stay in hospital, hooked up to machines.
For Wall, Cora Beth’s death came unexpectedly due to a heart defect.
Her two-year-old was also sick after birth, and doctors told Wall that Ayla wouldn’t survive. While Ayla is doing better, Wall wasn’t told Cora Beth was so sick before she was gone.
The irony is not lost her.
“(The death of a child is) a unique loss. There’s no other loss like it,” says funeral director Jayne Pattison, whose mother Christine co-founded the local TCF chapter to help cope with the loss of her son Tim, Jayne’s 33-year-old brother, who died three years ago.
“People can’t relate to those dealing with the loss of a child and want them to move ahead faster in the grief process. (But) it’s not that simple.”
The Compassionate Friends meetings take place the first Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the tea room at Victory Memorial Park Funeral Centre, 14831 28 Ave. To learn more, call 604-536-6522 or visit http://tcfcanada.net/